Interview with Jon Lebensold – PHP and Zend Framework Programmer Extraordinaire
If you’re a PHP programmer and or have some interest in the Zend framework, you’ve probably run across Jon’s name or heard his voice over at Zendcasts, where he produces and shares video tutorials/podcasts covering all aspects of the Zend Framework and PHP. He has also produced more video tutorial series over at KillerPHP, including a PHP Shopping Cart, WordPress themeing, Advanced PHP, and more.
I’m a web developer living in Montreal, Quebec (that’s in Canada). I spend most of my days working on web applications as a freelancer and managing a website I started called Zendcasts. Zendcasts is a collection of online training materials centered around Enterprise PHP development. I’m also a member of the Bahá’í community and I maintain a blog at lebensold.net
2. Tell us a bit about your programming background. Do you have a formal education in computer programming? How did you get started in this field? What languages and technologies have you worked with and do you still work with?
I started building websites when I was in high school, the first one being for my Warcraft II clan! My dorky past helped me get acquainted with computers, networking and building HTML websites. Over a decade later and now I have a small business where I primarily do Zend Framework PHP development and the occasional bit of C# consulting.
3. You’re the brain and voice behind the popular and very helpful Zendcasts website. Can you tell us a bit about Zendcasts, when did you start doing Zendcasts and why?
I have to start by giving thanks where it’s due. Ryan Bates (of railscasts.com) was a huge help to me when I was learning Ruby on Rails back in the day. Also, Stefan Mischook (killerphp.com) has been a great friend and keen observer of web business trends. Stefan and I have been doing video tutorial content for years, and after I saw what Railscasts had done for the Ruby on Rails community, I knew there was a void that needed filling for Zend.
4. Recently you presented a talk at Intuit about using the Zend framework to integrate their QuickBase marketing site with Google Wave. Can you tell us a bit about that?
Last year, Intuit’s QuickBase (quickbase.intuit.com) division approached me about helping them architect their new marketing website. After we had successfully migrated their existing site over to Zend, we started talking about other potential collaboration opportunities. Joshua McGinnis, the main author of the PHP QuickBase SDK asked if I’d be interested in doing a little mash-up with Google Wave, Zend and his API. We built a little task management gadget as a proof of concept and presented it as part of the Intuit Engineering Network seminar series. It was a lot of fun to do, and I hope I have more chances to speak in the future!
4. Are there any projects that you’ve worked on (websites/apps – parts of your portfolio) that you’d like to share? PHP or otherwise?
hmm… I suppose recently, there’s the quickbase marketing site: http://quickbase.intuit.com as well as a redesign of METAphrenie’s website: http://www.metaphrenie.com. I also architectured and built the first iteration of the Nomad Player website:
I’ve done a lot of backend projects that I unfortunately can’t really show off since they’re behind login screens!
5. One of the hotly debated topics all over the web is what is the best PHP framework (if there is such a thing). It’s pretty obvious from the Zendcasts series that you’re a fan and proponent of the PHP language and the Zend framework. Why PHP, and why Zend?
PHP is a very fast language to develop in, and it’s also approachable. I think there’s a lot of elitism when it comes to programming in general and I’ve found that the PHP community is the most receptive and welcoming community to fall into. At the same time, I like Zend because it was architectured by experts in software engineering. I see Zend and PHP as a marriage of an approachable, pragmatic community with leading experts in development best practices (like TDD and the GRASP principles).
5. What are your thoughts about content management systems such as Drupal, or MODx CMS, etc. Do you ever use them?
I’ve used various CMS’ and have also been asked to maintain them. I think they’re a great way of providing generic content solutions and they offer a solid foundation for simple websites or small web applications. I often start by looking to see if a solution like Drupal, WordPress or any other CMS can fit the bill before suggesting Zend.
6. I believe that you and I have had this discussion before, but for the benefit of my readers, do you think there’s any merit in starting to learn PHP development by learning a framework (such as CodeIgniter which seems to be very newbie friendly and has lots of documentation), or do you think it’s better to first master writing PHP code from scratch and then move to frameworks? Is it a bad idea for a beginner to bypass learning the basics of PHP, OOP etc?
I think that people come to web development from all sorts of channels. Someone coming from C#, Ruby or Java will probably have no problem getting their hands dirty in a framework like Zend. For someone who hasn’t touched PHP and isn’t familiar with web development in general, basic PHP skills and an understanding of OOP will help them make sense of the class hierarchies and the underlying architecture.
7. In your opinion, what should a beginning programmer focus on?
I think a beginner should focus on building something they’ll find interesting. Working on a project you love really has no substitute.
8. What resources/strategies/approaches have you found useful in your own journey as a developer that readers can benefit from? And specifically in relation to PHP and the Zend framework?
I think there’s a lot of elegance, style and design in a framework like Zend which is often overlooked when you ignore the actual Zend Framework source code. I’ve learned a lot from just reading through Zend Framework components and their corresponding unit tests. Reading about design patterns can also help explain the terminology used inside the classes.
9. What are your future plans for Zendcasts? Do you accept guest contributions?
Zendcasts has been an opportunity for me to build a network of enterprise PHP developers and I really hope that continues. I’m still trying to maintain weekly podcasts and will do so as long as I can. I do accept contributions! Please email me if you’re interested in helping out. So far, I’ve had 2 guest contributors and I hope to have more. I’d also like to eventually build the site into a more course-driven experience, rather than it being chronological.
10. Any closing thoughts for our readers regarding Programming, Web Development, PHP, Zend framework?
I think web development is still an area that’s undergoing a lot of rapid change and it’s important to keep an eye out for whatever crazy projects are on the horizon and not get caught up becoming overly specialized in one language or one framework.
Thank you very much Jon for making the time to share your thoughts and insights with us, and a big congratulations on completing your Bachelors degree.
I’ve been following Zendcasts for a while now and Jon has been a great inspiration and resource in my own PHP journey, always ready to lend a hand and share his knowledge. I hope you’ve enjoyed this interview, and if you haven’t already, do yourself a big favor and make sure you visit and subscribe to Zendcasts once you finish reading this 🙂 You won’t regret it 🙂